Some perspective on Maya Lin’s new project

Maya Lin’s radical and light-filled library renovation at Smith College re-sculpts the campus, a green haven for students in Northampton, Mass.

Welcome Women’s History Month!

This month I’m sharing work by the diverse women artists who’ve shown at the Hess Gallery (where I’m the curator). Most exhibited in the past year or two (well, or maybe three). We’re starting with this awesome lineup of talented women from the Boston area who work in every imaginable medium: painting, photography, illustration, installation. I’m not too shy to include my FeministFuturist collab!

A new podcast!

Don’t look now, a new FeministFuturist podcast is live, featuring technologist and designer Julia Daviy, VR fashion guru AK Liesenfeld, and my charming co-curator and host, designer Karen Meninno of @kiranofkspace. Find out about the future of 4D garment printing, what fashion really means in analog and virtual space, and….will we really have to wear unitard jumpsuits in the Future?

Yvette Monstad’s Supernatural Creatures

At ArtSpace Maynard, Trolls and Entwives

Entwives–the spouses of giant sentient trees, the Ents–meet in an ethereal herd on the ArtSpace Maynard front lawn. A troll with floral hair smiles down from the front facade. Norwegian mythical creatures of the landscape, Ents and Trolls rarely become involved in the lives of humans, preferring to live in their elemental world.

Yvette Monstad works in welded scrap and mild steel, cutting elaborate silhouetted designs which she twists and bends to her will. Gentle and humorous, her creatures call attention to our endangered trees, birds, plants, and even bees (see her enormous welded bees in the Bee Garden behind ArtSpace). Yvette is the founder and director of Babacool Arts (French for “hippie”).

ArtSpace Maynard hosts its outdoor sculpture show, Metall-ity, until November 1. Free and open to all on Summer Street, Maynard, MA.

The living home of the gods?

Sculptors once apparently provided images which were homes for gods, or at least a pathway for deities to approach mortals in a context that was mutually understandable. I often think of all the work I could have had in, for example, Ptolemaic Egypt…

In the Ptolemaic period (323–31 BCE), a group of inscriptions carved on the walls of temples describes the way Egyptian gods can occupy an image and thus make it live. At the Dendera Temple, for example, an inscription states that the goddess Hathor “… flies down from the sky/to enter the Horizon of her Soul [i.e., her temple] on earth,/she flies down into her body, she joins with her form.”2 This text describes Hathor’s essence joining with a three-dimensional representation of herself. Further statements carved on the walls at the Dendera Temple refer to the god Osiris merging with a relief representation of himself: “Osiris … comes as a spirit … He sees his mysterious form depicted in its place,/his figured engraved on the wall;/he enters into his mysterious form,/alights on his image.” Images in both two and three dimensions can thus act as resting places for divinities and therefore become the site where humans can encounter the deity. The ancient Egyptians believed that this was the original intention of the god Ptah when he created bodies/sculptures of the other gods: according to a Twenty-Fifth Dynasty document (ca. 746–653 BCE), which may be a copy of an earlier text, the god “Ptah … gave birth to the gods. He made their bodies according to their wishes. Thus the gods entered into their bodies, of every kind of wood, every kind of stone, and every kind of clay.”4 In that text, a god’s “body” is virtually synonymous with an image carved in wood or stone or modeled in clay. There is scarcely any difference in the ancient mind, in this context, between images created by sculptors and the living bodies of the gods.

Art Makes Life Beautiful

It’s hard to think of an American woman who deserves a public memorial more than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it’s exciting to look forward to her future monument in Brooklyn (her home town), as recently announced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. A notorious art lover, RBG has said, “Art makes life beautiful.” We can’t agree enough.

Check out our new podcast!

Karen Meninno and I co-curated the exhibit FeministFuturist at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery this spring. Now we tell all in a new podcast so let me know what you think!

The Continuing Power of Monuments

ArtFan70Flickr

Recent months have ushered figurative sculpture into a cultural battlefield–literally and figuratively. Many images of Confederate leaders–men who fought the Union Army to preserve a culture and economy of slave labor–are torn down, removed, defaced.  Their images were erected in public spaces by local powerbroker who shared, in some measure, racist ideology.  Women are notably not subjects of  public monuments–implying by their absence that they do not contribute to national life or culture except as models for angels, muses, or civic goddesses–not real people whose lives and accomplishments deserve remembrance.

Monuments to Confederate leaders and semi-fictionalized heroes like Christopher Columbus are lightning rods for rage and despair that can find no other outlet. We kill racists in effigy; we tear them from a public square where their presence was never wanted.

Figurative monuments have again become vitally important as we need to see ourselves anew. Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War, 27 feet high, was created in response to a long-suppressed need to memorialize Black men. The young man of the monument is an anonymous rider symbolic of a new nation and a new army. (The title is from the Bible, Matthew 24: Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake…)

Meta Fuller’s 1913 monument to emancipation has quietly existed in a public square in Boston for only a few decades. As a monument, it runs counter to our expectations and so has been almost invisible in the cultural landscape. It is life size, rather than “heroic” (over-life) size. It does not loom over us with rearing hooves. There are no rippling bronze flags, no dramatically waving swords, no hands reaching to the heavens, no grim and purposeful striding. Instead there are three figures: an anonymous Black man and woman who stand quietly, looking quite seriously out at the world, and a weeping woman with a hidden face.

Fuller sculpted Emancipation in clay in 1913, and had it cast in plaster (presumably no organization was able to sponsor the high cost of bronze casting) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The piece was “lost” in storage in Boston and miraculously survived 80 years of neglect.  It was finally cast in bronze in 1999 and installed on a pink granite plinth in the South End’s Harriet Tubman Park. Fuller’s entire body of work comprised revolutionary effort: to portray Black Americans proudly and representing a full range of human emotions and capabilities. Emancipation, too, confounds conventions and expectations for both portrayal of Black lives and prevailing conventions of public sculpture. Fuller’s work is thoughtful, un-grandiose, avoiding cliched poses of either bombast or subjugation. The protagonists of her monument engage with the viewer with a serious and steady outward gaze. The drama in the piece is provided by a female figure, face hidden in her arms, and a gnarled tree that seems to wring its chopped and truncated branches. Fuller explains the work: …”Humanity weeping over her suddenly freed children, who, beneath the gnarled fingers of Fate, step forth into he world, unafraid.”

The piece’s anti-monumentality shared little with other heroic public sculpture made in the early decades of the 20th century. Its viewpoint has more in common with a work like Nona Faustine’s 2013 self portrait, From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth. In this photograph Faustine stood nude on a wooden “auction block” at the site of Wall Street’s colonial slave market. Not gesturing, not using props or attributes except–incongrously and portentiously–a pair of white dress shoes–Faustine’s work is at once a self portrait and a study for the kind of confrontational and thought-provoking monument Fuller made. Silent and serious, unavoidably human, these Black bodies prevent us from turning away.

 

Notes:

Thank you to ArtFan70 on Flickr for the photograph.

Meta Fuller in this blog.

Emancipation monument

Nona Faustine, From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth (from White Shoes), 2013 (Site of Colonial Slave Market, Wall Street).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meta

IMG_3865

Sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller (pronounced Mee-ta), 1877-1968, was a longtime Framingham, Mass. resident. The Danforth Museum of Art has newly opened a room devoted to her lifetime of work which includes a reconstruction of the corner in which she sculpted. Fuller worked for many years in a corner of her family’s Framingham attic, in spite of opposition from her husband and in between the demands of three children.

Fuller grew up in Philadelphia, in a family that supported her education and artistic ambitions. As a young woman, she spent three years studying in Paris and met Rodin, who encouraged her.

Fuller’s half figure is on display through May 3rd in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Originally modeled in 1913 for the Emancipation Exposition in New York City, this woman with her somber gaze is part of a group of three life size figures and a tree. The plaster version of this large group, titled “Emancipation Proclamation” was stored in a garage after Fuller’s death. Against all odds, the work survived and was finally restored and cast in bronze in 1999, when the entire monument was dedicated in Harriet Tubman Square in Boston’s South End.

This piece is on loan from Boston’s National Center of Afro-American Artists.

Divine Mirror-Mosaic

Monir Farmanfarmaian, who passed away last year, was an Iranian sculptor too little known in the United States. She composed her gorgeous Pentagon in 2011 using ancient Persian techniques of mirror mosaic, after first gravitating to this way of working in the 1970s upon visiting the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran.

Said Formanfarmaian of this visit: “The very space seemed on fire, the lamps blazing in hundreds of thousands of reflection … It was a universe unto itself, architecture transformed into performance, all movement and fluid light, all solids fractured and dissolved in brilliance in space, in prayer. I was overwhelmed.”[13]

At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pentagon is hung with its vortex at face height, creating an almost transcendental experience of sparkling and glowing reflections, embodying Sufi notions of the soul’s reflection of divine light. The MFA’s redesigned galleries of Arts of Islamic Cultures, where the piece resides, are a delight and a revelation.

MirrorMosaic